Camp Pennsylvania Returns to Duty

  • Share
  • Read Later
Just after dawn Monday the soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division mustered at Brigade Headquarters for a memorial service commemorating the life of an officer killed in a grenade attack the night before. A half dozen chaplains and fellow officers spoke a few words, there were a few tears and finally a 21-gun salute.

War on Iraq's ongoing coverage of the U.S.-Iraq conflict

 After Saddam
Who will step in to fill the void?

 Tools of the Hunt
 On Assignment: The War

 Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
 Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
 Ware: Last Stand for Saddam

 When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
 The Search for the Smoking Gun
 Counting the Casualties War in Iraq
After the attack on the leadership of the 1st Brigade — for which one of its members has been arrested — I gave a number of interviews about the events of that night. There were a few recurring questions. How it would affect the unit's morale? Would it how delay operations? And was this an indication of disgruntled soldiers in the 1st Brigade? At the time, I speculated that neither morale nor operations would be much affected and that whatever motive the suspect had it was definitely not part of a bigger problem with the leadership. However, this was really only speculation. I needed a day or two to prove myself right.

On the day after the attack, I spoke to over two dozen young soldiers from throughout the Brigade. Without a single exception, they all expressed genuine relief at learning that the Brigade Commander, Colonel Hodges, had returned from the hospital. Hardly the reaction of soldiers who had taken a dislike to their commander.

The clincher on that question came later in the evening. As I returned from a trip to one of the other units at the camp, I discovered that the Brigade Headquarters Area had been surrounded by a platoon of heavily armed infantrymen. I asked a nearby first sergeant if Col. Hodges had asked for the added security during the night and was told, "I don't think the colonel knows. These soldiers volunteered to come do this." I wonder if any of the veterans reading this ever heard of soldiers volunteering to stand guard all night before?

Col. Hodges brought an end to the guard the next day saying, "I do not subscribe to the theory that the attacker had an accomplice and I do not want to give any of our fine soldiers the impression that we don't trust them." He learned about the guard when he was challenged for a password while returning to his own tent, late in the evening. One officer jokingly asked Col. Hodges how he got past the guard without a password and received the reply, "I tried to overwhelm him with the sheer force of my personality. When that failed, he eventually saw the logic of letting me into my tent so he could guard me properly."

As an observer, I can say with conviction that morale here is high, the soldiers overwhelmingly trust their leaders and the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division is ready to begin combat operations.

One last thing I mentioned in many of my interviews: the admiration I felt while watching an Army major take charge of a chaotic situation, and for two captains who despite bleeding from their own wounds refused medical treatment for hours, while they ensured the area was secured and that all of the seriously injured soldiers had been treated and evacuated.

At the time I was not allowed to name them, but that restriction has been lifted and all of you should know who they are. The major was Kyle Warren and the captains were Townly Hendrick and Tony Jones. In a night that had a lot of heroes, these three stood out.